Nani Beccalli-Falco describes himself as “minister for foreign affairs” at the corporation where he works – a statement that may have seemed a touch aggrandising if Mr Beccalli-Falco were not talking about the biggest firm in the world. As president and chief executive of GE International, he is responsible for directing GE’s strategy for growth outside the US.

Based in Brussels, Belgium, he works across all GE businesses to expand customer and government relationships and to develop new business markets. To build a more global company, he advocates moving decision makers close to market. In 2003, 800 of GE’s top 4000 people were based outside the US; that figure is now 1500. Last year, sales outside the US exceeded those in the domestic market for the first time.

Advertisement

For now though, the US market still generates more profits than any other, even though manufacturing operations outside the US contribute considerably to its profitability, says Mr Beccalli-Falco.

However, with a continuing general shift of gravity outside the US, the profits are bound to follow. GE has just announced its intention to move the headquarters of its $25bn core consumer finance division from Connecticut to London. “We are moving headquarters slowly – probably more slowly than I would like – but deliberately outside the US,” says Mr Beccalli-Falco. The move means that two of GE’s six major industry groups will be headquartered outside the US.

Strategy for testing times

A global presence is a good strategy in testing times such as the credit crunch. GE sold its $6m subprime mortgage business, WMC, in April last year. Mr Beccalli-Falco says: “We happened to sell three months before the floor fell under everyone’s feet, which was a bit of luck; but we sold because the returns were not meeting our targets and we saw no future in the business.”

As far as the firm’s financial-business exposure to the crisis goes, he says that the credit crunch has brought nothing but opportunity. “Assets sold at 92 cents on the dollar make good acquisitions and represent future profits,” he says. Sales may slump in the more consumer-based business divisions, such as major appliances, but growth in emerging markets is making up the shortfall, he adds.

Infrastructure business outside the US represents 40% of GE’s total sales. Mr Beccalli-Falco says that he has seen nothing like it in his 33-year career. “We’re experiencing an infrastructure boom like we’ve never seen before, with $150bn of orders sitting on the books to be satisfied in the next four years as a result of emerging economy infrastructure works,” he says.

Market choice

In his view, the only market that is truly immune from the credit crunch is the Middle East, which is why GE has stepped up its operations there and in Africa. Incoming orders were $1.6bn and the staff count was 800 in 2002, rising last year to $9bn in orders and 2500 employees.

If Mr Beccalli-Falco had to point to the most significant strategy for the next five years across global markets, it would be serving emerging markets. “The biggest challenge in these markets is finding the right talent because we are not the only ones expanding there. Technology and economic growth are always challenges to an organisation like ours but in the end it always boils down to people – hiring, educating and retaining the right people.”

Curriculum Vitae

Nani Beccalli-Falco

2005 GE International President and CEO

1993 GE Plastics Japan Ltd President

1990 SPE, Managing director

1987 Bergen op Zoom, Director of marketing